Friday, July 20, 2012

Welcome to the Foreign Monkey Show!

We ex-pats working in China have a little phrase to describe our function in this society: "foreign monkeys."  Many times we are wanted not necessarily for our sweet skillz or our awesome personlitiez but just because we look foreign.

The work of a foreign monkey is not difficult.  It includes things like this:
  • posing for photographs
  • attending functions with important people
  • allowing our names to be dropped
  • attending English corners
  • helping schools and businesses with PR (by appearing in their ads or making personal appearances)
  • talking to reluctant little kids whose mothers push them forward to say hello
  • dancing and singing on command
Now I'm in a place where (I think) no foreigners live and few foreigners visit.  They want to take full advantage of having us here, which means we were asked to come to two community English corners and also to spend an evening teaching a class at the high school. 

Here's my report.  Welcome to the foreign monkey show!

English Corner
English corners are everywhere in China.  They are supposed to be times for people to come practice English.  Our leaders organized an English corner on Wednesday in the town square and asked us to come.

Picture ten giant magnets walking into a crowd of iron filaments.  That about sums up our English corner experience.

Teammate Larry fielding questions

Teammate Cara bonding with middle school students

One of the girls in my class and her cute baby.  We were happy some of our own students came in addition to the crowds of locals.

At the High School
We were asked to each teach an hour-long class to high school seniors.  My teammate and I decided to introduce ourselves, teach a few songs ("Hokey Pokey" and "Row Row Row Your Boat"), and then have them try to write English songs.

I was astounded to see that there are 90 students in the class.

They are high school seniors, which means it's less than a year until they take the college entrance exam.  They will not learn any new material this year.  The whole year is devoted to reviewing what they've learned and taking practice tests.  You can see from the piles of books on their desks how much information they have to study.

The college entrance exam is also the reason these poor kids are going to school all summer long, day and night.  This is true throughout China.  Your whole first twelve years of education are devoted almost exclusively to preparing you for the two-day exam that determines your future.  If you don't do well, you have to wait another year to take it again.  This leads to a lot of super-seniors in high school.

Anyway, I had a great time teaching the students.  They haven't had foreign teachers before so they literally applauded everything I did.  They also caught onto the songs really quickly and even managed to sing a round.  Not bad!  Some students were videoing me on their cell phones for the entire hour.

Clapping to get their attention

Most of the 90 students

The rest of the students.  Couldn't get them all in one photo!

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